Joe Burris, Globe Staff - used with permission from the Boston Globe Online.
Growing up in Kiryat Haim, Israel, Elad Inbar idolized Israeli basketball stars Nadav Henefeld and Doron Sheffer, both of whom had standout careers at the University of Connecticut. Inbar enrolled at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell three years ago hoping to make the same impact.
Today, the 24-year-old junior forward is doing what may have been difficult even for his idols: making six of every 10 3-point shot attempts.
One of four players on the team from Israel, the 6-foot-7-inch Inbar is UMass-Lowell's leading scorer and one of the reasons the River Hawks have a 17-1 record and are ranked third in the NABC Division 2 poll after last night's game 81-56 win at Southampton.
Inbar, who had 10 points last night, entered the game averaging 16.4 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, and has connected on 22 of 35 3-point attempts.
''Elad is a special player, and he conceptualizes the game at a higher level than most players,'' said second-year coach Ken Barer. ''He is our best post-up player, with a large repertoire of shots. He makes his shots look easy and can do a little bit of everything. He's also a team player, so when he draws the defense he shows that he is a very good passer, which has been very important.''
UMass-Lowell began the season 14-0, its best start in history, eclipsing the 5-0 start in 1986-87, and the 8-1 beginning in 1987-88, the season it won the national championship.
The team is ranked third in the nation behind Tarleton State (Texas), and Humboldt State (Calif.). It also recently earned its highest ranking in school history (second), and had a chance at No. 1 that week when then-No. 1 Tarleton State lost. But the River Hawks suffered their only setback of the season vs. Bryant Jan. 20.
The team bounced back by beating Assumption and Franklin Pierce last week.
''It's been great, we just keep winning and we keep having fun and working at it,'' said Inbar, whose father played for the Israeli national team. ''The team chemistry is great. I think everybody on the team is good friends and we click on and off the court.''
UMass-Lowell has a solid blend of players from big cities and foreign-born standouts. Only freshman guard Wesley Platt(Jamaica Plain) is from Massachusetts.
Entering last night's game, junior point guard Dana Jones of the Bronx was averaging 10.9 points, 3.8 assists, and 2.7 steals, and was shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. Sixth man James Whyte, a sophomore from Vancouver, British Columbia, was averaging 11.1 points per game. Junior center Ty Brunson of Albany, N.Y., was averaging 8.6 points and 5.8 rebounds, and leads the Northeast-10 in field goal percentage (58.6).
''Our start is something you can't always anticipate, but the guys have worked hard at it and we are a close-knit group,'' said Barer, who played at George Washington and then professionally in France. ''We are so deep that practices are competitive and it's not unusual to have our second unit beating our first unit. Plus we defend well. That's been my major emphasis. Our offense flows from our defense.''
Inbar epitomizes his team's competitiveness.
He became the 12th player in school history to score his 1,000th point, in an 81-66 win over Adelphia Dec. 13. He ranks among the school career leaders in scoring, rebounding, and blocks.
Entering last night, Inbar was among Northeast-10 leaders in scoring (seventh), field goal percentage (sixth), free throw percentage (second), and rebounding (11th).
In a 50-49 win over St. Anselm Dec. 10, he drained the winning 3-point shot at the buzzer. On the play, he caught an inbounds pass, had it knocked away, retrieved it, took one dribble and made the winning basket from the baseline. In the River Hawks' win over Assumption last week he overcame a 1-for-9 shooting night (he was double- and triple-teamed) by sinking 13 of 14 foul shots.
''The St. Anselm game has been my most memorable game,'' said Inbar. ''My dad showed me how to shoot [treys], and I guess it has just flowed from there.''
Inbar came to UMass-Lowell to follow in the footsteps of former teammate Eyal Leib. ''I sent [former coach Gary Manchel] a tape, and that's how I got here,'' he said. ''I used to watch Henefeld and Sheffer on TV, and I wanted to come here to play. They made it look fun.''
Inbar said having other players from his country on the team makes it easier being far from home, particularly because of the crisis in the Middle East.
''I talk to my mom every day, and I catch up on the news, so it's never like I don't know what's going on back home,'' he said. ''But it's tough, especially on holidays, when you really want to be with your family. But I'm doing something good here, so it's kind of OK to be away from my family.''